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Tottenham mother Helen Berroukech lost ten years of her memory after she contracted encephalitis
A mother who lost almost ten years of memories after she contracted a rare brain infection has pledged to raise awareness of the disease.
Helen Berroukech, of Albany Close, Tottenham, was diagnosed with encephalitis - inflammation of brain tissue typically caused by a viral or bacterial infection - in August 2003 when she was four months pregnant with her son.
More than a decade on, she has still not recovered many of the memories she lost, but is determined to raise awareness of the illness and is promoting World Encephalitis Day on February 22.
The 39-year-old mother was first diagnosed with the disease in August 2003 when she was four months pregnant with her son.
Her husband first noticed something was wrong when she forgot she was pregnant.
She said: “When my husband noticed I'd started acting differently he put it down to me being pregnant but after a couple of nights, when he came in from work late, I asked him who he was.
“He said I was very different and called an ambulance and I was taken to the North Middlesex Hospital.”
Mrs Berroukech was taken to the Royal Free Hospital, in Barnet, where she was diagnosed with encephalitis and was kept in for three weeks.
She said: “When I was out of hospital I started noticing the after-effects.
“In the early days I said I'd lost about five to ten years worth of memories – not everything but an awful lot.
“These days I say it’s probably around eight or nine years of memories.”
As well as memory loss, encephalitis can cause changes in mental state, such as confusion, drowsiness, disorientation, seizures and changes in personality.
Cruelly, the 39-year-old cannot remember a single holiday from her adult life.
She says reading can be difficult, as sentences appear as lists of words.
And there have been other changes - to her senses and even aspects of her personality.
She added: “I lost my sense of smell and my sense of taste is totally different – I cannot taste sweetness so most sweet foods taste bitter.
“I used to hate coffee, now I love café lattes. And I used to be squeamish and struggle with blood-tests and things like that but now that doesn’t bother me at all. I used to hate creepy-crawlies but now I pick-spiders-up when I see them."
Despite her illness, Mrs Berroukech gave birth to a healthy boy in January 2004 and said her son reminded her of all the things she had forgotten.
She said: “My husband and I joked that I was lucky to lose my sense of smell because of all the nappies.
“But after two years I started to be able to smell some things but not how I smelt them before.
“I can smell perfume things but they don't smell like perfumes.”
Mrs Berroukech heard about The Encephalitis Society about almost two years after she was diagnosed, and joined immediately.
She has since attended their annual meetings and spoken to others who have had the same illness.
The first World Encephalitis Day will take place on February 22.
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